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Citroen presses reset in Australia

Global Citroen CEO comes to Australia to start rebuilding struggling French brand

15 Oct 2019

CITROEN’S global chief executive Linda Jackson has made it clear that the struggling French brand is here to stay in Australia and committed to growing its operations with a more relevant model line-up that will include the return of the C4 hatch and innovative electrified versions of SUVs from next year.


In an interview with GoAuto at Citroen’s centenary celebrations at Motorclassica in Melbourne last weekend, Ms Jackson – who is the first global head of Citroen to come to Australia – also said improved customer service and far greater brand visibility would be used to improve its position.


Making her first visit to Australia, Ms Jackson emphasised the hard work being undertaken by her team back in France in conjunction with local independent distributor Inchcape Australia, which took control of the PSA Group brands (including Peugeot) two years ago, to reverse successive sales declines over the past few years.


Asked if Citroen had any intention of giving up on the Australian market, Ms Jackson said: “Would I be here if that were true?


“We’ve been here for 97 years, so why, when I suddenly have the right products and the biggest opportunities to establish ourselves.”


Citroen’s sales in Australia are down 22 per cent this year – largely due to the discontinuation of the Berlingo small van bestseller as the related Peugeot Partner steps in – and will struggle to match the lowly 494 units achieved in 2018, which was a 33 per cent downturn on the previous year.


Only three years ago, in 2016, the brand was at twice the volume with around 1000 sales, although a far cry from the C4-led halcyon days of 2007 when more than 3800 vehicles were registered.


Ms Jackson revealed that her trip to Australia is designed to give Citroen global management a clearer picture of what the Australian consumer wants – something that has never happened before.


“The Australian market is tricky – very competitive,” she admitted. “First of all, it’s SUV-driven and so not unlike most markets so that’s no different, but it’s purely petrol driven.


“Secondly, there are 56 brands so it’s extremely competitive, so I’ve learned that if we want to succeed here, we need to find something that stands out; I call it ‘the cutting edge’ and I think it’s probably comfort as part of our unique design.


“But we are still working on exactly what the story is for the Australian customer. We have a signature for Citroen worldwide called ‘Inspired by You’, and every market we go in we use that slogan but adapt it to the local market.


“So ‘Inspired by You’ in terms of comfort to me being from the UK means a completely different thing if I go to China, where comfort is about wellbeing and ‘feng shui’. I don’t know what ‘comfort’ means to an Australian yet, and I need to make sure we get it right, and that’s part of the reason for coming here and meeting with the local team to understand it.


“Because the market is so competitive, and we have to be careful not to drop into a price war as that would be a killer for us, we need to differentiate ourselves and find what is that magic recipe.”


Ms Jackson added that her visiting team, which includes senior vice-president of global marketing communications Arnaud Belloni, will meet with dealers and Inchcape personnel this week to ascertain what Citroen’s ‘mojo’ is, as she puts it, “because we want to get the passion back into the brand”.


The aim to is discover the best way to market the cars and improve brand awareness.


“It’s the recipe we’ve used and it seems to be working in many countries that we’ve done it, where we go in, learn a bit, go back and then support with as much help as we can,” she said.


“But in the end of the day, the only people that can build the story are the local people. I can’t build the story for Citroen in Australia, I’m not an Australian. I’m from the UK, I am miles away.


“In the end of the day, it’s Australians that have to be convinced and it’s got to be right for the market, which is nothing we’ve done before, it’s a completely new way of working.”


While Ms Jackson declined to divulge Australian sales targets, she did reveal that a plan is in place as part of a larger global drive.


“I’m not saying we are going to have enormous volumes, because we do need to rebuild,” she said.


“Citroen, as a whole, needs to become more international, and okay, it’s not big volumes, but all of those countries add up and therefore it’s important for us to be (visible) around the world. And I wouldn’t be coming to Australia if I didn’t think there was an opportunity for us.


“It’s going to take time. We have to build up the awareness again, and you do that first with product, the customer experience in the dealerships, how we come to market, and how we differentiate ourselves amongst those 56 other brands.


“So, no, we are serious, we’re in this market, and we really don’t want to come out of it. Why should you waste 97 years of being in a market? Okay, there are examples of people (brands) coming out and then wanting to come back in. That’s not our philosophy or our strategy.”


An overhaul and rationalisation of Citroen’s product range began the moment Ms Jackson took on the role of CEO about five-and-a-half years ago – she joined Citroen in 2005 as finance director, after a career that started with Leyland in the UK in 1977 – and while the full extent of that model plan has yet to be revealed, all the vehicles in question potentially have a future in Australia.


“When I realised back in 2014 I was going to have to rebuild the whole of the product plan for Citroen, we said we would have seven silhouettes,” she said.


“Two of those would be SUVs (the C3 Aircross and C5 Aircross, both released this year in Australia), and with those a larger vehicle (2020’s C5 sedan replacement, based on the latest Peugeot 508 though completely redesigned), a C-segment car also out next year (bringing back the C4 hatch to Australia after a four-year hiatus), and a B-segment car (the current C3 released here in late 2017), we cover probably 80 to 90 per cent of where we needed to be.


“When I did the product plan, I did it in three stages, with replacing the new C3 worldwide first, then I wanted to launch my SUVs because we didn’t have any and that was sacrilege in a world where SUVs is predominant, and then the third phase which we start next year is that we replace the hatch and the big saloons.


“By then we’ll have a complete range – small, medium, large and SUVs … and that’s fine. Who knows what we’re going to do afterwards, but for us it was very important to follow that principle and end up with this balanced portfolio. And whichever country we go on, it’s right. Some more than others, but we have the necessary coverage.”


Finally, Ms Jackson admitted that Citroen’s message in Australia has been confusing in the past, but that a renewed focus and desire to make it succeed in this market is paramount.


“I would like to say that Citroen thinks Australia is extremely important, and we are really concentrating to understand how we can re-establish ourselves in Australia for Australian customers. Citroen is a global brand and a French brand, but we really do put design and comfort at the very heart of it, and we really believe we have an interesting opportunity here in Australia.


“We are not arrogant, it’s going to take time to build it. But we’re back.”

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